Most people who have travelled through Central America will agree that Guatemala has the most delicious food. With its Mayan culture merging with Spanish traditions, the local cuisine here is far more flavoursome and complex than that of the neighbouring countries. Tourist hot spots, such as Antigua, certainly aren’t short of excellent restaurants and international food, but if you’re looking for something more authentic, we’ve got you covered. Here are 10 of the most traditional dishes from Guatemala.
Guatemala doesn’t really have a national dish, but chicken pepian is probably the closest thing to it. This spicy stew, borne out of the fusion of the Spanish and Mayan cultures, is one of the oldest dishes in Guatemala. It’s made with chicken, beef or pork, contains both fruit and vegetables (usually pear, squash, carrot, potato and corn) and is cooked with a rich mix of spices. It’s traditionally served with rice and tortillas.
Pupusas are everywhere in Guatemala and are a great way for travellers who are on a budget to fill up. Thick corn tortillas are stuffed with a variety of fillings – usually refried beans, cheese and/or pork – and then fried until the surface is crisp and the inside squashy. They traditionally come with a helping of salsa and cabbage to keep it fresh.
Kak’ik is the other contender for Guatemala’s national dish. This traditional Mayan turkey soup is packed with spices, including coriander, achiote and chillies, and is an important part of Mayan cultural heritage. Its roots go back to the Q’eqchi’ ethnic group who still prepare the dish in the same way as they did hundreds of years ago.
Empanadas are crispy, buttery pastries that are perfect for lunch on the go. Throughout Central America, these usually have a meat filling, but in Guatemala, most are vegetarian and filled with potato and/or spinach and covered with a variety of toppings such as guacamole, tomatoes, onion and cilantro.
The word hilachas means ‘rags’, which seems like a bizarre name for a dish until you see what it looks like. It’s made with a type of meat that shreds easily and is simmered in a mildly spicy tomato sauce and cooked with potatoes, squash and/or carrots. For a more filling meal, it’s served with rice and fresh corn tortillas.
Who doesn’t love a double helping of carbs? Tostadas are a popular street food, and most are topped with guacamole, tomato salsa, radishes, onions and a large dollop of noodles. You may think the idea of spaghetti tacos is slightly odd, but with so many different textures and tastes, you’ll be a convert after the first bite.
Antigua Guatemala is one of the best cities for brunch in Central America, and while you can enjoy all manner of international breakfasts here, make sure to try the local breakfast too. The desayuno tradicional usually features scrambled eggs with onion and tomato, avocado slices, mashed piloy beans, stewed plantains and tortillas; it makes for a perfect start to the day.
For those with a sweet tooth, make sure you try some rellenitos. Essentially Guatemalan donuts, rellenitos are made up of cooked plantains mashed with refried bean paste, sugar and cinnamon, and then they are deep-fried. When mixed with sugar, the beans’ taste and texture are similar to chocolate, and the consistency of the rellenitos is incredibly moreish.
Okay, coffee isn’t really a dish in itself, but it’s hard to discuss Guatemala’s culinary offerings without mentioning it. The mountain basin that surrounds Antigua produces some of the best highland coffee in the world, and even the most simple cup of local brew will delight with its nuances of spice and smoke.
Considered the birthplace of chocolate, Guatemala and the cacao bean have a long history, and the quality of chocolate here is exceptional. The Mayans deemed it ‘the food of the gods’, and cacao played an enormous part in the local history. It was traditionally served as a drink in Guatemala rather than eaten, and even now locals prefer to sip on it rather than bite into a bar. Either way tastes pretty good.